15. Ben Smith (Highlanders)
I can’t see Steve Hanson give up on Israel Dagg this easily, but for what it’s worth, Smith truly deserves a run out for the All Blacks. It’s been an abysmal season for the Highlanders, but their fullback has been outstanding. He continuously threatened when he joined the line and crossed the whitewash twice in the process.
14. Willie le Roux (Cheetahs)
Even though I don’t think Heyneke Meyer will give him a chance in the Green & Gold, not many people can be surprised at Le Roux’s inclusion in the Springbok Squad. The Bulls defensive system is a good one, but once again the Cheetahs’ livewire got everyone excited when he chipped and gathered to score under the posts.
13. Tevita Kuridrani (Brumbies)
The Brumbies spent eons in the Hurricanes’ 22, putting a ton of pressure on the defenders with their midfielders leading the charge. Unfortunately the ball slipped from Kuridrani’s hand when he stretched for the line, but a good overall performance sees him selected as one of the best players from Round 16.
12. Jan Serfontein (Bulls)
With more game time at the top level, his confidence has grown in leaps and bounds and it is quite clear why he was selected as the IRB Junior Player of the Year in 2012. The Baby Boks will sorely miss him at this year’s championship, but their loss in the senior team’s gain as he is set to make an appearance for South Africa. Serfontein attacked the Cheetahs line with purpose, gaining ground time and again as he proved very hard to bring down.
11. Luke Morahan (Reds)
Being big and fast are real attributes to wingers of late, the Reds’ speedster is no different and had a strong game for the Queenslanders. He is very quick of the mark and thus swooped in to intercept a wide pass in order to dot down on the opposite side of the field. Even though he is a different type of player than Digby Ioane, he is undoubtedly just as dangerous.
10. Quade Cooper (Reds)
Had to hang his head in shame twice in the first half as his kicks were charged down, resulting is tries to the opposition on both occasion, but Cooper came back strongly to make amends for his mistakes. He definitely didn’t do himself any favours with regards to getting in the good books of Robbie Deans, but sparked his local team to a superb victory. However huge a risk he can be, when he plays with such attacking intent and displays skills no-one else has, how can you not select him? Just to give the Wallabies selector further headaches, he somehow managed to burrow through a handful of defenders to reach out and score a sublime try.
9. Nic White (Brumbies)
It seems that every Super Rugby franchise in Australia has one man that Robbie Deans just refuses to notice; in the Brumbies camp that man is Nic White. Headlines Down Under are rightly screaming about what else the halfback can do to get himself onto the Wallaby bench after another stellar performance. White has great vision, fast feet, delivers quick service and has a superb flat pass – in my opinion none of the players apparently preferred to him possesses the same qualities.
8. Ben Mowen (Brumbies)
Pre-season Jake White singled him out as a great leader and potential coach one day; with every game that notion is becoming more comprehensible. He captains the Brumbies through leading by example, has an eye for the smallest of gaps and his big strides allow him to gobble off ground faster than you would think. Was it not for some desperate behind the line efforts from a couple of the Hurricanes, Mowen would have had another try to his name as well.
7. Arno Botha (Bulls)
Doesn’t always get the game time he deserves as there are a host of good back-rowers in Pretoria, but when he does get the nod, he doesn’t allow anything or anyone to get in his way. He carries the ball strongly and is deadly in defence, hardly ever allowing for an inch in the tackle. It is also clear that the Bulls line-out is thriving under the tutelage of Victor Matfield as even the flankers are getting in on the act of stealing ball.
6. Luke Braid (Blues)
For all money the best player of the round even though his team lost. He ticked each and every box this weekend, creating turn-overs, robbing opponents of the ball, bulldozed over defenders, stopped them in their tracks a number of times and scored the all important fourth try for the Blues on top of having a hand in another.
5. Ali Williams (Blues)
His side’s loss clearly hurt the veteran second rower who did absolutely everything he could to motivate his young team to success. Williams even had a subtle go at the referee after some questionable call against the Blues, begging the official to just tell him what they could do to get on his good side. He provides a safe option with ball in hand and always works hard to get over the advantage line.
4. Brad Thorn (Highlanders)
Williams is joined by his equally experienced nemesis, the only difference between the two being that Thorn’s frown was turned upside down against his old All Black teammate. Their battle in the line-out was a classic. Thorn was at his utter best against the Blues, getting through a mountain of work at the breakdown in order to give his back line plenty of front-foot ball.
3. Coenie Oosthuizen (Cheetahs)
I realise that he played the majority of the game at loosehead, but when he switched sides to make room for Trevor Nyakane, he was equally good as the Cheetahs dominated the Bulls’ scrum. In my opinion he is a far better choice for the Springbok front row at this stage than Beast Mtawarira. Oosthuizen always runs hard at the opposition and has some seriously skilful hands to go with his nimble feet.
2. Chiliboy Ralepelle (Bulls)
When he first got selected and primed to one day captain the Springboks, the decision raised plenty of questions. However, a few years later he is actually playing like someone who deserves a spot in the South African nation’s pride and joy. Ralepelle runs great lines off the halfback and flankers, often breaking a tackle or two through the use of good angles. Apart from the little offloads and slip defenders, it is the fact that he does the basics so well that gets him in the limelight this year – having the ability to almost always find your jumpers immediately springs to mind.
1. Jamie Mackintosh (Highlanders)
If memory serves me right, I cannot recall another time when a player was applauded into the sin bin. Mackintosh made full use of his rare start, working hard in the rucks and mauls, and being a real menace in the scrum. I’m sure coach Jamie Joseph will think twice before demoting him to the bench for the remainder of the season.
by Jackie Smit